AHMET ÖZKAN MELAŞVILI: THE GEORGIAN HRANT DINK
Throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire, the locals, such as Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, tried to hinder the policy of otomanization and preserve their national identity and religion. At different times, they had leaders who devoted their entire lives to this goal. For Georgians in Turkey, Ahmet Özkan Melaşvili was that person.
Georgians in Turkey are basically Georgian Muslims who inhabit the historical region of Nigali, now divided between Georgia and Turkey. The Ottoman Empire actively used them in the wars against the Russian Empire, and after the Sovietization of Russia and the appearance of the Iron Curtain, communication and contact with the Georgians on the other side of the border was completely lost.
Nevertheless, despite the isolation from the rest of Georgians, a zeal of national identity still remained in the villages of Georgian Muslims, which awakened the soul of the enlightener, public figure and patriot Ahmet Melaşvili.
Ahmet Özkan Melaşvili was born on June 10, 1922 in the village of Koçbayır, Balıkesir Province, Turkey, into a family of Georgian Muslims from the Borçka region (Artvin vilayet (province), Nigali). The starting point of his vigorous activism was his acquaintance with Georgian immigrants from Europe. He met one of them in 1944, while serving in the army. He told Ahmet a lot about Georgia and Georgian culture, and also introduced him to the ancient Georgian alphabet.
In 1955, Melashvili married Yuksel Ergun, a Muslim Mahachel Georgian woman. The couple settled in a small Georgian village in Turkey named Hayriye (Bursa). In Turkey, where there were only Muslims, Ahmet gave his children the Georgian names Iberia and Tamar, which was a rather daring decision.
While in Istanbul, Ahmed became close to local Georgians and, with the help of a local Georgian monk, learned to read, write in the Georgian language, and also studied the history and culture of Georgia in depth.
In 1969, Melashvili published a book in Istanbul called Gürcistan (Georgia, in Turkish). This was an unprecedented event for Georgians in Turkey, who received factual material about the history and culture of Georgia for the first time. It was dangerous to publish a book like this in Turkey. The authorities included the book in the list of the banned ones, and Melashvili himself was arrested, but the court acquitted him.
The court case did not stop Melashvili's activism: he continued to be actively involved in the preservation and dissemination of the Georgian language, culture, acquainting both ethnic Georgians and the Laz people with his history. He did this, among other mediums, through publications in the Chveneburebi (Our, in Georgian) magazine, which remained the most significant periodical for the Georgian community of Turkey for a long time.
One of the important directions of Melashvili's activism was the popularization of the Georgian language and literature among the Islamized Georgians and the Laz people. He tried to revive Georgian customs in them, constantly reminding them of their origin.
Melashvili made a great contribution to Georgian folklore, collecting legends, narratives, stories of their ancestors, proverbs, riddles, song lyrics and other materials, and also founded an ensemble of Georgian folk music and dances. It was a wise decision, since not all Georgians could read his books, but everyone would hear the songs. Through dance and music, Georgians were more easily involved in their culture.
Özkan Melaşvili paid with his life for his activism. He was assassinated in 1980 by Turkish nationalists of the Bozkurt (Gray wolves) organization. But his efforts were not in vain: describing Melaşvili's activism, writer Giorgi Kalandia writes in his book, titled Three Georgian Stories: “The Georgians of Turkey did not know about the existence of Georgia, they thought they were the only one of its kind.” For a long time, isolated Georgians in Turkey acquired a strong sense of national identity as a result of the Ahmet Melaşvili’s activism, and were ready for a dialogue with their Soviet Georgian brothers on the other side of the border after the fall of the Iron Curtain of the USSR.
Ahmet Melaşvili was buried in the Georgian village of Hayriye in Turkey, and the following words were written on his grave: “He lived for the nation, and not for the sake of immortality.”
His son - Iberia Özkan Melaşvili - took upon himself the responsibility and became a worthy replacement for his father in this matter. He achieved what had previously seemed impossible: the introduction of the Georgian language as an elective subject to the general education system of Turkey.